Following Jesus by relinquishing power is a call for every one of his followers. Here, three church leaders reflect on their experiences of recognising and relinquishing privilege, and the joy of seeing power shared to see others flourish.
A newcomer was sitting with a circle of women, chatting after the service. Suddenly she said, “Wow! I’ve never seen that before!” I asked what she noticed. She gestured to the men heating food and setting the table for our common meal. “Everywhere else, men talk and women serve,” she said. “Not here,” I replied. “Here, we take turns. And if you stay for the meal, you can watch them do the dishes afterwards!”
Our model is Jesus, who emptied himself of power in order to serve. This means that straight white middle class members, particularly men, are expected to park their privilege and prioritise the needs of more vulnerable church members.
Practically speaking, this means submitting to the code of conduct and safe church requirements; ensuring LGBTIQA+ people feel safe and belong; listening when women and children speak without interruption; using a formal liturgy to meet the common needs of autistic people, traumatised people, and young children; and making plenty of space for all people to pray, testify, and critically reflect upon Bible, church and world.
The result? Our gentle visitor stayed. We all minister to each other. And our church is full of joy.
The Revd Alison Sampson is the pastor of Sanctuary Baptist Church, Warrnambool.
Jesus, in his human form, had so much power, more than anyone realised. When he was walking with his disciples and those around him, he fully comprehended the control and power he had, yet he did not abuse it, and he displayed that his power was not his own, as the Father was who he obeyed.
That attitude and level of obedience and control is something worth reflecting on repeatedly.
Humbling myself was needed to accept that the power and control I have is not my own, but was given to me by my Father in heaven. My choice on how I use it, as a Christian, should reflect how Jesus used his. To subvert or relinquish privilege, you first must be aware of the type of privilege you have and ask yourself: “How can I use my privilege to better serve the Kingdom of God, to serve the people around me, and most importantly, to serve God?”
I had come to learn that power existed in more than just verbal words, but in systems, skin colour, language and actions. This meant that I had to reflect on the power and control I have, but also the power and control that has been taken away from me. It was difficult to be aware of all these things and to wrestle with what came out of my reflection and conviction. But the good news is that Jesus had already gone before me and accomplished this, and he will always be a perfect example.
Being a leader of Justice Nights at my local Christian community, these lessons came through often. Our Justice Nights have been about placing ourselves in the listening position to learn about the injustice faced by our brothers and sisters: we ran semesters on racial justice (focused on the Aboriginal community) and creation care. Being the first group in RICE Melbourne to ever run these nights, not only were our leaders new, but our audience and community were too. Being a new leader in a new space with people who are also new to it was exciting yet nerve wracking. But I found that if I were to have the chance to lead in this space, I first had to learn how to listen, posture myself towards God’s direction, and be willing to constantly be convicted of truth. The leaders and I had to be willing to sit in this space with people and grow with them rather than telling them what to do. This posture of “walking beside each other” reminds me of how Jesus always walked with his disciples, and it’s the attitude I hope to have for as long as I lead.
“Gentleness is power under control.” And Jesus was and is gentle.
Cassandra Lim is a young church leader from RICE, a global movement passionate about reaching young people with the Gospel.
For most of us, our power (or powerlessness) is found in our wealth, education, age, intellect, cultural capital, social standing, gender, profession, religious status, political access, ethnicity and race. Power can be destructive and divisive. But it can also be healing and nurturing when released and used for others’ well-being and human flourishing.
We relinquish power when we genuinely listen to those who’ve been marginalised. We relinquish power when we seek to give power away and move the margins to a welcoming centre. We relinquish power when we say “no” to opportunities so that other voices can be heard. We relinquish power when we say “yes” to justice and action so that other voices can be honoured.
I struggle to relinquish power and privilege and give all this up for Christ and others. Relinquishing power (and giving up our confidence in the flesh) isn’t natural or easy. But the Spirit of Christ enables us.
Churches can start with taking a “power audit”. Mandy Marshall has designed a power audit that you can use in your small group. It will help you think about your power and use your power to confront injustices and the status quo. It will allow you to use power and privilege for the well-being of others. You can find it here: https://theglobalchurchproject.com/power/
Graham Joseph Hill is the State Leader for Baptist Mission Australia (Western Australia). He is an Associate Professor of the University of Divinity and the Founding Director of The Global Church Project.